When you look at the business people you really admire, they can leave you with mixed emotions:
1. Awe, admiration, inspiration… they are living proof that success is possible. They are badly needed hope that your dream is achievable. This drives you forwards with your own business.
2. Frustration and depression… you compare what you have achieved and benchmark this against someone more successful… the gap seems so large that you start to wonder what is possible. Doubts begin.
I read a great post on Quora about what it means to be CEO of a startup. A lot of this I recognised.
“Very tough to sleep most nights of the week. Weekends don’t mean anything to you anymore. It’s very difficult to “turn it off”. But at the same time, television, movies and vacations become so boring to you when your company’s future might be sitting in your inbox or in the results of a new A/B test you decide to run. You feel guilty when you’re doing something you like doing outside of the company. You begin to see how valuable creativity is and that you must think differently not only to win, but to see the biggest opportunity. You are creative and when you have an idea it has no filter before it becomes a reality. This feeling is why you can’t do anything else. You start to see that the word “entrepreneur” is a personality. It’s difficult to talk to your friends that are not risking the same things you are because they are content with not pushing themselves or putting it all out there in the public with the likelihood of failure staring at you everyday. You don’t have a problem anymore being honest with people about not cutting it. Quitting is not an option. You’ll hear not to get too low when things are bad and not to get too high when things are good. You’ll become addicted to finding the hardest challenges because there’s a direct relationship between how difficult something is and the euphoria of a feeling when you do the impossible. You learn the most about yourself more than any other vocation as an entrepreneur. You learn what you do when you get punched in the face many many times. You learn what you do when no one is looking and when no one would find out. You learn that you are bad at many things, lucky if you’re good at a handful of things and the only thing you can ever be great at is being yourself which is why you can never compromise it.”
I do not believe in overnight successess. People are not born with some innate ability to be a master in a certain business field, pre-programmed from birth to make perfect business decisions.
I had a long journey to get to where I am today and I’m still only beginning. For a lot of people I know who are running businesses, things have gone wrong. There were many bad business decisions. What you see today is a moment in time in their lives. A still photograph. But you are missing out on the movie behind it, which includes a lot of horror sub-plots, twists and turns and gut wrenching moments.
There are a few things that all these people have in common.
You’ve got to DO STUFF. It’s no good talking about stuff. The greatest insult you can give anyone is to say they know some interesting things. Rather than saying they have used this knowledge and have DONE some interesting things. If the best someone could say about me was that I was interesting to talk to I’d be gutted
This doesn’t mean they always do the right stuff though. They do lots of wrong things, learn from them, and then try to do something different.
My first attempt at a business was making an educational kids cdrom. It took about a year to make, I sold a few but there wasn’t a business in it. Frustrated? Yes a little. I had spent a lot of time on this. Patient? Yes. I proved I could make and ship a good product. I realised I didn’t need to know everything as if I didn’t how how to do stuff I could find it out. I learn on the job. I also learned I could work hard on my own initiative.
Learn quick. You need to actively search for information. If you wait for an excellent course or teacher to appear in your local area, within a five minute walk, so everything is nice and easy for you, forget it. You need to do the hard work. Effort has to be put in. Imagine you are starting a business and you get the opportunity to ask a MOGUL in your business area, ONE question. You need to make that one question COUNT. I wouldn’t ask that question today. I’d build my business, learn as much as I could from them by reading their books, webcasts, videos of them on TV talking business, everything I could get my hands on. There’s no point wasting an opportunity like this asking superstars basic questions that you can find out the answer to with some effort. I’d keep this question and use it when it would have the biggest effect on my business, when I was really stuck and had exhausted all other avenues of knowledge. If you only get one shot, make it count.
The world’s a big place.
One of the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you need to operate on the international stage. If you are the best in one country, that mightn’t mean a lot. As a fairly charismatic horse trainer I know remarked about winning a competition, they only won because they were the best idiot there on the day.
Frustration will eat you up and will cause you to think negatively about your startup. It’s one of the biggest dangers to growing your startup. You need to flip this and focus on patience. It will happen, but today you have to be patient and keeping working hard in the trenches. Try and reproduce patience that you use in other aspects of your life. I bought a new horse about five years ago. He didn’t like people, distrusted everyone and did not under any circumstances want to be touched, rubbed or petted by a human. You could not catch him. I worked with him for a day or two in the stable on really basic stuff. After this I let him out in a small paddock, with his halter still on. Hopefully to make it easier to catch him so I could continue his training. You need to be able to handle / catch a horse as at a very basic level if he gets an injury and needs the vet, it’s not good if he won’t come within a mile of you. So that first day in the paddock, it was horrendous weather. Freezing cold, damp, grey skies and totally miserable. I spent over three hours slowly and patiently working on building his confidence in me, to the point where I could clip the rope onto his halter. There were rivers of rain running down my clothes but I didn’t notice. It was me and him, and a whole lot of patience. So think of areas in your life where you are patient, and use that strength in your business.
This could be an Irish thing. When I get an idea, I get excited. This happens automatically. I’m not sure if you call it optimism or delusion but there’s a trait in Ireland for people to ‘give it a go’. I think it’s a glass half full thing. You’re not sure if it’ll work out but it sounds like fun so you will always ‘give it a go.’
Grasp the big picture
Knowing what you want from your life is a really strong driver to keep you working on what you want to achieve. I used to work in a job I loved in Dublin. The work was exciting and I had made some tremendous friends. I was managing a project and running it exactly as I wanted to – lean and mean but with a lot of fun – thanks to a great manager who let me do my thing. The whole thing was a blinding success. We did the impossible and I got such a kick out of it. But it was taking its toll. My big picture was that I wanted to work on stuff I liked (tick) I didn’t mind hard work (tick) but I wanted some kind of life as well and I wanted to ride my horse. While I was successful in work, I was cancelling holidays, working too many hours, I slept through one whole Christmas from overwork and I hadn’t seen the horse in years. I don’t do New Years Resolutions, but I did in 2012. It was ‘Less Work, More Adventure’. Every time I had to make a decision from then on, I based it on that. Thus doing crazy stuff like Startup Weekends in London, quitting my sensible, enjoyable, permanent job to ride my horse (and make apps, it was about 50% of each) and getting on a plane to San Diego. Figure out your big picture, then make your big decisions based on this.
Start an adventure, keep your costs low
You don’t have to quit your job though. I did lots of stuff in evenings and weekends. Everything I worked on was an adventure and while none of them made much money at the time, each one was worth the effort I put into it. I knew enough to know I needed to spend as little money as I could. So if stuff didn’t work out, I lost my time, but I didn’t bankrupt myself. You can do a lot by self teaching yourself things. Seriously. Especially in the I.T sector, sometimes all you need is Google. I wasn’t doing the most profitable stuff, but I was doing something more important – I was DOING stuff.
Stuff you can’t predict that blows your mind.
Building something, whether it’s an app, a painting, writing a book, making a game… elevates you up to whole other level. Making things is stuff you have control over. But once you hit ‘publish’ that dream you built takes on its own life. You have connected yourself to the greater world and anything can happen. Crazy, magic stuff that you could not even imagine. Stuff that goes way beyond earning money.
Your dreams start with three words. Never give up.
After you’re done with this blog post, I want you to do TWO things:
– Have you had challenges in your business? Let me know in the comments below.
– Do you know someone who is struggling to start up their own business? Send them a link to this blog.